Does Your Lockout/Tagout Program Need to Evolve?

Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) programs have become a common practice for safeguarding employees. Yet the incident rate of electrical workplace injuries has remained relatively unchanged over the past decade. According to a new study conducted by EHS Today and Panduit, 40% of companies have reported electrical incidents over the past five years and nearly seven out of ten have reported near misses.1


The Hierarchy of Risk Controls is used to determine how to implement feasible and effective control solutions. Control methods at the top of the graphic are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom.

Many LOTO programs aren’t as effective as they should be because they are still primarily focused on manual risk mitigation at the lower tiers of the Hierarchy of Risk Controls—PPE and administrative controls—which are considered the least effective methods for preventing electrical incident injuries and fatalities.

To truly minimize hazards, your LOTO program likely needs to evolve to focus on the higher tiers of the Hierarchy of Risk Controls, and doing that requires collaboration and input from across the organization.

Common Shortcomings

PPE is only effective if worn properly, yet a study of construction workers found that although 82% of participants believed wearing PPE could protect them from injury, 58% of participants were reluctant to wear it and 53% reported seeing coworkers without it in dangerous situations.2 The time it takes for a worker to determine what PPE is required, obtain and inspect it, and then put it on is significant, especially when workers are under pressure to meet deadlines. Even after all that, PPE doesn’t do anything to prevent hazards in the first place.

When servicing electrical equipment, workers must comply with safety regulations that require a voltage verification test to validate the absence of voltage. This process includes a number of stages that can be complex and time-consuming when using hand-held portable test instruments.

Employees performing Lockout/Tagout procedures must verify the absence of voltage in order to establish an electrically safe work condition.  However, using traditional methods with a manual voltage testing device still exposes workers to electrical hazards. One survey found that over a five-year period, 55% of respondents reported either an injury or an injury near miss with voltage test instruments at their facility, and 11.7% reported a disruption to plant operations.3 The underlying causes identified included hardware deficiencies, human error, and inadequate systems for managing the selection and use of the test instruments.

The manual voltage testing process itself relies on the expertise and diligence of the person doing it. The process has been described by some as “easier said than done,” with one survey at a large chemical company finding that 90% of the organization’s electricians and technical personnel did not know how to perform a thorough test.4 Manual processes are difficult to track and leave the person performing the task on his or her honor to execute each step; there are no warnings or indications if a step is forgotten or skipped.

Moving Up the Hierarchy of Risk Controls

The NPFA 70E 2018 standards now explicitly state that the priority of any safety program needs to be the elimination of the hazards. Two areas of improvement in particular can go a long way in moving the focus of your LOTO program from mitigation toward elimination.

Collaboration

Reducing hazards isn’t possible without all employees adhering to the program, and safety procedures can’t be developed in a vacuum. That’s why the most effective LOTO programs are built in collaboration with multiple departments. In addition to helping increase buy-in, attacking a problem from multiple angles can reveal hidden stumbling blocks and provide new insights for overcoming them.

It’s also important to keep in mind the different groups of employees affected by your LOTO program:

  • Authorized employees, who are responsible for implementing energy control procedures and performing the required servicing or maintenance.
  • Affected employees, who operate equipment or work in an area in which an energy control procedure is being implemented.
  • Other employees, including office or warehouse personnel who work in an area where an energy control procedure is utilized.

Each group must understand their purpose and role in the LOTO program. For example, while affected employees are not responsible for locking out or tagging out, they need to clearly understand not to start up or use equipment during these procedures.

Bringing each group to the table to gives them a real sense of ownership over the program’s design and ensures that all teams understand, support, and follow the proper procedures.

Safety Technology

The more manual steps you can eliminate from any process, the more you can reduce exposure to possible risks and potential individual errors. This is especially true for a LOTO program that depends on using handheld testers for voltage verification, which expose the person performing the test to the very electrical hazards they are trying to avoid.

Incorporating more engineering control technologies moves your LOTO program up the Hierarchy of Risk Controls by creating barriers between workers and electrical hazards.

The VeriSafe™ – Absence of Voltage Tester minimizes risk by verifying the absence of voltage before equipment is accessed, making it easier for qualified electrical workers to verify an electrically safe work condition has been established.

One example of an engineering control solution is Panduit’s Absence of Voltage Tester (AVT), a device that can be permanently mounted on a control panel and that can indicate if the panel is de-energized before opening.

As with any process, the easier your LOTO procedures are to implement, the more likely they will be followed. Anything that can reduce the time needed to look for proper tools, devices or PPE should be considered. This can be as simple as having dedicated lockout kits or lockout stations.  Another option is to use lockout devices that can be installed without tools, such as Panduit’s PowerLOK™ circuit breaker lockout device.

Finding the Right Partner

Research has proven that just having a LOTO program in place isn’t enough to protect your employees and business from the risks associated with electrical hazards. Today, it’s crucial to strive for the more effective, higher tiers in the Hierarchy of Risk Controls. Yet, evolving a LOTO program to reduce hazards can seem overwhelming.

That’s why at Panduit we work closely with you to understand the unique needs of your business. In addition to offering industry-leading safety solutions, Panduit can also help your organization with safety services and OSHA-compliant training to help you build a better, more effective LOTO program.

For more information on how to improve your electrical safety programs, read our eBook How Understanding the Hierarchy of Controls can Lead to Reduced Electrical Incidents.

FOOTNOTES:
1 EHS & Panduit: Industry Insights: Electrical Safety Considerations: https://bit.ly/2W3XHlD
2 R. U. Farooqui, S. M. Ahmed, K. Panthi, and S. Azhar, “Addressing the issue of compliance with personal protective equipment on construction worksites: a workers’ perspective,” in Proceedings of the 45th ASC Annual Conference, Gainesville, FL, 2009.
3 H.L. Floyd and B. J. Nenninger, “Personnel safety and plant reliability considerations in the selection and use of voltage test instruments,” IEEE Transactions on Industry Applications, vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 367–373, 1997.
4 K. Crawford and N. K. Haggerty, “Test before touch: Seems easier said than done,” IEEE Industrial Applications Magazine, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 32–39, May/ June 2008. doi: 10.1109/mias.2008.918503.

Reduce the Risk of Arc Flash With a Reliable and Repeatable Repair and Preventative Maintenance Program

The importance of preventative maintenance programs can’t be understated. Especially when it comes to reducing the risk for arc flash. Accuracy and repeatability are critical to any machine operation, but that also applies to the preventative maintenance program itself. Facility and safety managers understand that repeatability makes work easier to implement.

Even the most conservative estimates say that there are up to five arc flash explosions occurring in electric equipment every day in the United States. Even more electrical incidents happen daily, but there are ways companies can significantly reduce the occurrence of these incidents to create a safer workplace.

Preventative maintenance can increase machine reliability, which decreases the need to access that equipment for repairs. This, in effect, increases overall plant safety when machines and equipment are operating as planned without the need for unscheduled maintenance. NFPA standard 70B outlines the best practices for setting up and maintaining an Electrical Preventive Maintenance (EPM) program. Additionally, the InterNational Electrical Testing Association (NETA) offers tremendous resources on preventative maintenance with their PowerTest Conference seminars.

An effective Electrical Preventive Maintenance (EPM) program helps avoid extra expenses, disruptions and potentially lost profits that may result from equipment breakdown or an arc flash. Typically, in setting up an EPM, it begins at the main service entrance and works its way through the electrical distribution system to automation and controls all the way to the machine level.

There are a variety of reasons why an arc flash may occur; it could be an accumulation of conductive dust inside an enclosure or purely equipment failure – likely the result of inadequate maintenance. In short, if electrical equipment is not maintained, then something is going to give.

An effective means of preventing electrical incidents and arc flashes is the anticipation and elimination of the conditions that may cause them. Spotting potential signs of an electrical failure include:

  • Identifying and repairing compromised insulation before it fails.
    Predictive maintenance systems can provide early warning of insulation degradation or failure. Visual inspections of the condition of insulation and electrical joints should be conducted whenever maintenance is performed.
  • Monitoring electrical equipment at critical joints including, lugs and compression fittings.
    Over time, heat cycles and vibration can loosen connections which can cause overheating and may lead to an arc flash. Thermal sensors can help monitor these critical joints.
  • Using infrared windows.
    Using infrared thermal scanning through IR windows enable technicians to perform scans without removing equipment covers or opening doors, lessening the likelihood of arc flash events caused by accidental contact and exposure.

It should go without saying, that before performing any electrical work in any form of maintenance, that it’s important to de-energize the equipment and verify that an electrically safe work condition has been established.

Verifying absence of voltage is important and the testing method to work on de-energized equipment must also be safe and effective. The electrical worker who conducts the testing needs to understand testing procedures and be repeatedly proficient with the testing devices.

Verifying the absence of voltage with the Panduit VeriSafe Absence of Voltage Tester before equipment is accessed makes it easy to verify that an electrically safe work condition has been established without exposure to hazards.

The results of having a reliable electrical safety and preventative maintenance program will reduce risk, minimize business interruptions and even extend the life of your plant’s electrical equipment.

From Problem to Solution: NFPA 70E and the VeriSafe Absence of Voltage Tester

The VeriSafe – Absence of Voltage Tester (AVT) from Panduit supports compliance in the lockout/tagout process described in NFPA 70E.

 

Electrical workers must comply with safety regulations that require a voltage verification test before servicing electrical equipment. NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, addresses best practices for protecting employees from electrical hazards through the use of safety programs, hazard and risk identification, training, and procedures.

One of the best ways to protect workers is to isolate the electrical supply, follow lockout and tagout procedures, and verify the equipment is de-energized before any electrical work is performed. Until now, this process has been complex and time-consuming, fraught with possibilities for human error and potential exposure to hazards.

The verification step often puts electrical workers at risk for exposure to electrical hazards while testing a handheld tester on a known voltage source, testing for absence of voltage phase-to-phase and phase-to-ground inside the equipment, and re-testing the tester to ensure it is still functioning properly.

Until these steps have been completed, it is best to assume the equipment may be energized and take all necessary precautions including use of adequate personal protective equipment.

In the 2018 edition of NFPA 70E, a new exception was included in Article 120.5(7) that offers an alternative to the traditional hand-held testers method used to verify the absence of voltage: the option to use a permanently mounted device.

The permanently mounted test device can be used to test the conductors and circuit parts at the point of work before the equipment is accessed preventing exposure to electrical hazards. These permanently mounted devices must be installed at the point of work in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions, listed and labeled for the purpose of verifying the absence of voltage, and satisfy additional requirements outlined in the standard.

The permanently mounted test device is different from the test portal interface that is sometimes used with a handheld voltage tester. Although the test portals reduce exposure when verifying the absence of voltage, this process– working with hand tools via a portal – does not meet the requirements of the new Exception 1 in 120.5(7) because:

  • It is not listed for the purpose of verifying the absence of voltage
  • There is no way to confirm that the probes of the tester are actually in direct contact with the electrical conductors inside the enclosure at the time of the test
  • They bring hazardous voltage to the door

An example of a permanently mounted device that does meet the requirements of NPFA 70E is the absence of voltage tester (AVT).

The VeriSafe Absence of Voltage Tester from Panduit is specifically designed to verify the absence of voltage and fully complies with the new NFPA 70E standard. This ultimately simplifies the testing process and reduces risk for the qualified worker performing electrical work.

Automating this process with the VeriSafe AVT:

  • Reduces testing procedure time and complexity
  • Reduces the risk of exposure to electrical hazards
  • Supports compliance in the lockout/tagout process described in NFPA 70E

A facility’s electrical infrastructure is a top priority. With more than 60 years of infrastructure expertise, Panduit is committed to developing innovative solutions to help companies achieve their operational goals, reduce risk, and increase electrical safety.

Learn more about the VeriSafe - Absence of Voltage Tester here: www.panduit.com/verisafe